Monday, July 30, 2012

Review: Dear Esther (4/5)

Dear Esther is a very controversial game. I heard about it when it was on sale during the Steam Summer Sale (you may have noticed I bought quite a few games at this point. The deals are just too good). It was up for $2.50 and now is still only $10 so it's quite cheap. I'm not going to go into the same likes/dislikes format I've been doing lately because I don't want to get too specific about the game. It is an adventure for you to explore.

It is a very unique indie game. There's no shooting or sprinting or interacting or anything really. You just move, look, and listen. It sounds boring, but the game tells a deep and compelling story. I felt as if I was investigating something, but I wasn't sure what it was. Even after finishing the game I'm not sure what I've discovered. It sounds corny, but the game really makes you think. The game is technically an open world of an island for you to explore and listen to narration, so you can sort of go wherever you want. Actually though the game ends up being mostly linear, but I always felt as if I wanted to go the same way the game wanted me to go to continue. It wasn't like in most games where I felt forced to go to the next "checkpoint." There is no map with waypoints telling me where to go. I was just drawn in by the environment and moved where I needed to. I'm still not even sure if the game is linear though. Perhaps if I play it again I could take another route and get to the same place. Or a different place? The game really makes me feel in control. Also, the environment is beautiful. Even if there were no story just walking around the island would be exciting and interesting.

Overall this game is fascinating. I would definitely pay more than $10 for it, but it really is only $10! I highly recommend it as it is a unique take on video games with a compelling story and beautiful environment. I warn you though: you must be prepared to play a game like this. It is almost like a movie. It only ends up taking about an hour and the replay value is likely minimal (I have not played through again but I've heard the game rearranges stories and you can walk different routes). In the end though, I felt it was a deep and meaningful experience that was well worth my time and money. You just have to decide if that is the type of game you'd want to try.

Final Score: 4/5

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Review: Need for Speed Hot Pursuit (2/5)

When I saw Need for Speed Hot Pursuit on sale during the steam summer sale for only $5 I couldn't help but pick it up. It reminded me of playing the older Need for Speed games when I was just a kid in the 90s and having a blast catching criminals with spike strips. The basic premise is that you can either play as a police officer or an illegal street racer. You race to catch criminals or get away from cops and you use special abilities and ramming other cars to stop them.

Things I liked:
  • Tools like spike strips and helicopter were fun and gave racing a bit of spice.
  • The hot pursuit mode was cool chasing several racers or racing while escaping from the cops.
  • Some cars were fun and cool but often felt similar to each other when driving.
  • Difficulty level seemed to scale well as you progressed

Things I didn't like:
  • Annoying menus, load screens, and car intros that were impossible to skip through (typical EA).
  • The racer mode was slightly more fun to me than cop mode, but neither were all that exciting.
  • Plot is a joke/non-existent.
  • Controls difficult on PC. If I were real serious I would use a gamepad or wheel, but I have neither.
  • Multiplayer seemed okay, but nothing too exciting. Basic matchmaking system seemed fine.
  • As I said hot pursuit mode is cool but I felt going through career I had to play a whole bunch of boring standard "time trials" or basic races to get to the fun races. Often felt tedious.

Overall: It is an okay game and was kind of fun for nostalgia reasons, but it seems very bare, like it's missing so many things. I wouldn't recommend buying it for more than $5, maybe $10 if you really miss Need for Speed. Right now it is $20 on steam so I would pass unless you catch it on some random sale like I did. If you want to get a good racing game I recommend Forza Motorsport 3 for the Xbox 360. I can't technically recommend Forza Motorsport 4 because I haven't played it, but I want it and that metascore is sick. Unfortunately if you don't have a 360, I don't have a PS3 to recommend games, and I don't think people make very good racing games for PC. I always enjoyed the Burnout series on consoles so perhaps Burnout: Paradise is okay but I haven't played it. In general racing games are tough to control without a gamepad or wheel so I'd probably shy away from them on the PC.

Final Score: 2/5

Friday, July 27, 2012

Review: Borderlands (3/5)

I've not finished the game yet, but I figured I would review Borderlands since I just got in the steam summer sale and even more exciting for you: it is free to play this weekend! Also if you buy it before Monday it is 75% off so I recommend checking it out. The link I posted is to the game of the year edition which I didn't buy I only have the normal one, but for an extra $2.50 it might be worth it. FYI Borderlands 2 is coming soon and it looks awesome so might as well prepare.

The game is a first person shooter with RPG like elements to it. You pick one of 4 classes (Berserker, Soldier, Hunter, and Siren) and then you use guns, weapons, and one unique class skill to kill stuff and level up your character. As you level up you can use better weapons and gain skill points to use. The skills you get are all passive skills that improve other elements of your character.

Things I liked:
  • Very unique guns and items with very random and fun modifiers. Loot is usually exciting to find.
  • Enemies are quite varied and interesting. From bandits with shotguns to lobster looking things that burrow.
  • Gameplay is simple and very fun. Getting a critical hit and blowing some creature's head off with a sniper rifle is oh so satisfying.
  • Skills are fun and despite always being passives they feel like they matter, and effect your character a great amount.
  • The coop system is very good and very fun. It deals with all the common problems like splitting loot money for you, and as long as you use different types of weapons you never fight over loot or ammo.

Things I didn't like:
  • Although a few quests are unique and exciting, many quests aren't too fun and feel a bit tedious
  • The plot is okay but not really good enough to keep me excited to find out what's happening next
  • Long range traveling is done by car or fast travel but it still often feels tedious and slow running or driving around. Maps are a little too large I feel.
  • I could not get into this game playing solo. I tried last year on the Xbox but I didn't find it too fun. Playing again now with my buddy Tim it's very enjoyable and we've put quite a few hours in.

Overall: This is a very fun loot based game. For only $5 (this weekend only) it is hard to pass up even if you don't think you'd like it haha. The amount of content in this game is quite large and I honestly don't think I'll be sad I'm missing the DLC from the GOTY edition, so I'd pass on that. The biggest problem I feel is trying to play alone. I don't really recommend buying unless you can find a buddy to play with or you really like this game type. Whether you are alone or playing with a buddy though, if you are reading this review the weekend of 7/27/2012 you really ought to try it out for free and then decide if it is worth your money. If you miss this weekend and Borderlands is $20 again then well, it is a close call for me to recommend it but I'd still say go for it if you have a buddy to play with.

Final Score: 3/5

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Review: Civilization V Gods & Kings (4/5)

This will be a review of both Civilization V and the recent Gods & Kings expansion in one.I've played Civ V on and off since it came out but since the recent Gods & Kings expansion came out I figured I would just review them both. Most PC gamers know and love the Civilization series and I know I at least have fond memories of Civ II from when I was a kid. Most games in the series were good but none really compared to Civ II in my mind, but I think Civ V comes closest.

To those unfamiliar with the genre it is a turn based strategy game where you build up your empire and technology. Starting with one city and agriculture you can use diplomacy, culture, technology, or war to build your empire up and win the game. You can win with one super developed city and a vote from the UN making you president of the world or something, or you can win with 100 cities by crushing your opponents. It is up to you.

Things I liked:
  • New combat system with one unit per tile actually makes strategy a little more difficult and interesting because you have to take positioning into account.
  • New hex grid is also nice and a little more intuitive to me anyways. Some don't like it but I find it easier to understand.
  • Gods & Kings adds spies which were always fun. They aren't quite as interesting as they were in older Civ games but they still add a little spice to the game.
  • The techs and buildings and civs are as fun as ever. The core gameplay is just fantastic.
  • Gods & Kings added some fun new units and buildings and improved naval raiding of cities which was nice.

Things I didn't like:
  • Gods & Kings also adds religion but I thought it was bland and didn't have a large effect on the game. Perhaps I wasn't using it correctly though.
  • Gods & Kings added a few new nations to the mix too but I didn't find any of them particularly interesting.
  • The end game gets a bit rough, especially if you are doing domination. Controlling so many units and cities can be tedious to me at times, but that kind of comes with the genre.
  • AI is pretty good but sometimes acts strangely and doesn't accept very reasonable trades. This is a minor problem though.

Overall: Civ V is a great game and I think totally worth picking up at any price. The replay value is just through the roof. There was a recent story on reddit of a man who has been playing the same Civilization II game for 10 years and got stuck in an "eternal war." It's a good read and I recommend it even if you don't play Civilization. Anyway, the point is you can play Civilization games for a very long time. I don't think Gods & Kings adds enough content for me to truly recommend it though unless you can get it for a quite a bit cheaper than $30. If you have Civ V and are just craving for more content though it will do the trick.

Final Score: 4/5

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Review: Orcs Must Die! (2/5)

This is a game review for Orcs Must Die! It was on sale earlier this week during the Steam summer sale for only about $3. I had never heard of it but I checked a couple reviews and it came highly recommended so I couldn't resist picking it up. It's a new take on classic tower defense games that has you running around in a 3rd person view attacking the incoming monsters while also placing traps for them. This genre is new but it appears to be getting fairly popular. Another seemingly similar game that happens to be on sale for the next few hours is Dungeon Defenders. I haven't played it myself but it sounds simple and fun. I opted not to pick it up due to already having Orcs Must Die! Anyway on to the review. I'm going to try this in a different format today and keep it simple.

Things I liked:
  • Gameplay is fun and simple. Cool watching orcs die to towers and fun shooting or slashing them.
  • Quite a variety of towers.
  • Story was simple, but humorous and fit the theme of the game.
  • Easy learning curve and no problem jumping right in and smashing stuff.

Things I didn't like:
  • I always enjoyed setting up intricate mazes in tower defense games, but due to the price of barricades it is impractical to do that in this game.
  • Levels were fairly short so building up a really powerful defense was difficult.
  • Despite variety of towers some seemed impractical on most levels.
  • Some variety of enemies but game still started to feel repetitive near the end.

Overall: I liked it and was worth my few hours of fun for the price. If you can't pick it up for less than $5 though I don't think I'd recommend it unless you are a serious tower defense fan and need something new and interesting. 

Final Score: 2/5 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Review: Diablo 3 (3/5)

I was just as excited as everyone else for Diablo 3 and had great expectations. I played the beta and it seemed very fun and satisfying so I assumed the rest of the game would be just as great. When the game finally launched and there were server errors for hours at the start I thought "Oh well it's just some launch trouble that's not uncommon." I let it go and thought it was no big deal. After days though there were still disconnect problems and it started to get frustrating. Then as I played the game itself, I enjoyed it at the start, but as I got further and further the story got weaker. Act I was very exciting and long. Possibly even too long. The surprises in the story and character development were all quite good and kept me interested throughout. Smashing the Act I monsters was always super fun too and as I learned new skills I got exciting new ways to smash them. Act II was somewhat enjoyable plot wise, but it was starting to get predictable. Also the enemies in Act II often seemed more annoying than fun to fight. Act III improved gameplay wise but the plot seemed even simpler and dull. Finally Act IV seemed like it was very rushed. It seemed to last less than half as long as Act I and the plot was so basic and disconnected it was very unimportant at this point. There was no character development anymore and none of the quests I was doing seemed important.

Plot aside many people think the more important part of dungeon crawlers is leveling up and loot collection. Leveling up and learning new skills and runes was fun until about level 40 or so and then it started to get really stale and uninteresting. The loot was also almost never exciting. This has been a common complaint among Diablo 3 players. Diablo 2 had unique and interesting loot modifiers that made it interesting to pick up rares and unique items even as low as level 5, but in Diablo 3 almost all the items you find have the same simple modifiers and nothing really makes any of them unique. Now I only got up to level 56 so I didn't get into Inferno mode yet so I can't speak for that, but I hear it is more of the same boring grind. In all of my Diablo 3 play (about 50 hours I think) I only found one legendary item and the stats on it weren't even very useful for very long. Unfortunately because of the Real Money Auction House (players can sell items for real cash) Blizzard cannot make it so everyone gets the best drops all the time. In fact because of this system as you get to very high levels you are almost forced to use the auction house (you can use the gold one instead of spending real money) or you cannot progress quickly because the loot is just not good enough.

Despite all these problems I did have a lot of fun playing the game and leveling up. Smashing zombies with my barbarian was very satisfying and it's hard to find another game that makes left clicking so fun. The gameplay in Diablo 3 is still solid despite the other problems I listed. It's just a bummer because everyone had such high expectations for Diablo 3 and I feel it really fell short. Some say we're all just nostalgic for Diablo 2 and we just wish it was more like that, but the more I play the more I feel that it is not just nostalgia and the game really has problems. People said the same thing about Starcraft 2 right when it came out, but I clearly love that game to death, and I think it was very well made. Some people say Diablo 3 will get better when they patch it and balance it some more and add in PvP and yada yada yada. Maybe they're right, but I don't think we should have had to wait for all that. In the end I will probably go back and play it again some day as I still think it's a good game, but it wasn't the game we all hoped for.

Final Score: 3/5

Steam Summer Sale!!!

The Steam Summer Sale is amazing. If anyone has money burning a hole in their pocket they really should check it out. I had heard about it last year but figured I didn't care or want any of those games. When you really look at it though you see all these games for under $10 and think "How can I not buy this?" Some games go down as low as $2.50! I don't have much money so I've only spent about $20 so far, but that's gotten me 5 games and many many hours of potential entertainment. Check it out